Tag Archives: Snow Geese

Eagles, Ravens and More, 01-28-19

I wanted to get up a little early today so I could head out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge… The drive to the refuge is a long one: 2 hours there, 2 hours back, and about 4 hours of driving around the auto tour route. That’s a LOT of car time, sitting in a folded-up position. I haven’t done it since just before my surgery and didn’t know if my core could handle that yet. Well, I found out. It can’t right now.

I was okay on the drive there, but halfway through the auto tour route, I started to ache, and by the time I got back to the house I was in pain. Dang it! I thought I was doing so well. Gotta work more on the exercise and core stuff I guess.

Anyway, after putting gas in the car and stopping to pick up something for my own breakfast, the dog and I got to the refuge around 7:00 am. The sun was just coming up, so I got some red-sky photos. Because the light was so “low” and there was some cloud cover, the camera gave me fits all day. The cloud-glare bounced off the water and played havoc with the light meter/auto focus dealie, and I struggled to get the photos I wanted, sometimes failing miserably which was very frustrating. So, rather than relaxing me, I was kind of stressed out periodically throughout the drive.

Still, I did manage to get SOME halfway decent images. CLICK HERE to see the full album.

The standouts for the day were the Bald Eagles and Ravens. I saw about 5 eagles, including a bonded pair and a juvenile (maybe 2 or 2 ½ years old). One of the eagles was sitting what I generally call “the eagle tree” because you can often find one sitting in it.

It’s sometimes hard to get photos of the birds in that tree because it’s a tall one that sits on the right-hand side of the road. You either have to lay down in the front seat and shoot out the passenger-side window or turn the car at an angle that puts your driver’s-side window to the tree (and blocks the whole road). There were no other cars on the road at the time, so I chose to block it. (Didn’t think my core could handle my lying down in the seat and twisting to shoot out and up into the tree.) I was surprised to find that in that tree, on a few branches below the eagle, there was also a Cooper’s Hawk. You don’t really realize just how truly big the eagles are until you see one beside a hawk. Wow!

The rest of the eagles were near the end of the auto-tour route. The bonded pair were in a distant tree, sitting near the top of it, near the last park-and-stretch area. Because they were so far away it was hard to get any good close-ups of them with my camera. And because of the cloud-glare, their white heads tended to vanish against the white sky, so finessing the camera’s iris was tricky. I liked watching the pair, though. They sat side by side, surveying the surrounding wetlands, periodically touched beaks like they were kissing and groomed one another.

The last two eagles, an adult and the juvenile, were sitting up in the eucalyptus trees along the exit route. The juvenile, which was much more visible than the adult because it was sitting out near the end of some branches, at first looked like a mottled shadow against the twiggy branches, but then seemed to reveal itself as I got closer to it. So cool!

I also got to see three ravens. Two were of a pair that landed together in a tree near the end of the auto tour route. One was kind of bedraggled-looking; some of its feathers were on inside out. And the other flew up with it, offering it a treat I couldn’t quite make out. The treat-bearing one flew off again, and the bedraggled-looking one stayed behind, cawing loudly in the direction in which the other had left.

Even though I wrestled with the camera all day, I was still able to see over 30 different species of birds and animals while I was out there, so I still chalk it up as a “good” viewing day.

Not Many Good Photos Today, 12-02-18

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and decided I’d try going out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It’s a long drive and I wasn’t sure how Wilson (my tumor)  would react to sitting in a vibrating thing, accelerating and decelerating for hours at a time. I tried going without any pain pills, too, but that didn’t last. Around 9:00 am I had to take one of the ibuprofen. Otherwise, Wilson pretty much behaved himself.

It was foggy in some spots along the highway, but otherwise chilly and mostly sunny all day. It was about 38° when I headed out and remained in the 40’s at the refuges. When I got back to Sacramento in the afternoon, it was about 54°.

On my way to the refuges, I counted 24 raptors along the highway. Most of them were Red-Tailed Hawks, but there were also 4 Turkey Vultures and 3 Kestrels in the mix.

I got to the Sacramento refuge around 9:00 am, which is really “too late” to see anything really good. Most of the birds had finished their breakfasts already and were hunkering down to digest their meals. I didn’t feel like I got any really good photos of anything, and I also felt I was rushed because there were so many other cars on the auto-tour route. So, it was kind of a disappointing day.

The Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese are dominating the landscapes right now, and their noise was defending at times. Soooo many birds!

I was hoping to see some eagles, and I did, but they were about a block away form the car on a small island in the wetland area adjacent to the last park-and-stretch point.  There was an adult Bald Eagle and two juveniles who were eating what looked like a downed Snow Goose. The juveniles looked like they were different ages; one about 2 years old, the other about 3 years old. When they were done eating, they flew off, and the adult eagle moved over to the carcass. While it was eating, it was approached by a seagull, then a Turkey Vulture, then a Raven… and the eagle was actually pretty tolerant of them. I got some of it on video, but because of the distance of the birds, the images aren’t very crisp.

I WAS able to get some nice scenery shots along the route and was happy to see snow on Snow Mountain (the northernmost end of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos (even though I’m not really pleased with any of them.)

Mostly Wrens and Squirrels, 05-16-18

I was up around 6:00 am and took the dog with me over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I encountered clouds along the way, but none of them amounted to anything where I was traveling. Back in Sacramento, however, they apparently got really organized and the city had rain, thunder and over 100 lightning strikes in the morning (just after I left). Wow!

At the refuge: because the big pond in the permanent wetland area is drained, there isn’t really a lot of anything to see there right now. Usually, there are frogs and snakes and all manner of birds around the pond, dragonflies and damselflies, a multitude of spiders, otters and muskrats…

Right now, the pond is like a PRAIRIE. Dried up with short vegetation sprouting throughout it and little mud holes here and there. It’s hard to get wetland wildlife photos when there’s no water! The geese were actually GRAZING where the pond should have been. *Sigh*

Still, I managed to get photos of some cottontails and California Ground Squirrels, and Marsh Wrens at their nests. I sat parked along the auto tour at one point for about 30 minutes, just watching a pair of the wrens. The male was out singing away, while the female flew beak-fulls of dried grass to the nest she’d chosen and arranged it inside. Once, while I watched, the male went up to the next and stuck his head, checking out the female’s work. When she came back with a mouth full of twiglets, he flew off singing again. The opening to the nest was turned away from the car, so I couldn’t see in to see what she was doing. Danged smart little birds.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The California Ground Squirrels seemed to be everywhere. They should have lots of babies to feed this time of year. As an aside, did you know that in 1918 California launched a campaign to eradicate these native squirrels and even had posters and pamphlets printed encouraging children to join the “army against the squirrels”? “Children, we must kill the squirrels to save food,” a woman on the pamphlet says as she’s smiling. “But use poisons carefully.” The pamphlet included a recipe for strychnine-laced grain as well as suggestions for other extermination methods, such as shooting, drowning, and poison gas. Horrifying (and stupid). The campaign, sanctioned by the state government, actually came from the beef industry which claimed the squirrels were eating all of the grain on which the cattle fed.

I also came across a large creche of Canada Geese (parents, fuzzy goslings and fledglings); about 30 babies altogether(!). This is typical for Canada Geese. One set of adults watches over the group while the other parents feed, and the babies are kept in a group with the youngest in the center and the older ones on the outside. The behavior provides safety in numbers, and also teaches the young ones the concepts of following the leaders and working together – which they’ll need during migration.

In different spots along the route, I was able get good photos of a Red-Eared Slider Turtle and a large Pacific Pond Turtle, so that was nice. For all of my “bitching” about the lack of the big ponds, I did manage to see and count about 43 different species (plants and animals), so the trip wasn’t a waste… And it got me outside, into the fresh air, and focused on something other than my grief over the death of my brother Michael and his wife Sharyi…

On my way out of the refuge, I found a pair of Mourning Doves sitting in a tree, a male and female cooing at each other. They immediately brought Mike and Sharyi to mind, and even as lovely as they were, they brought a tear to my eye…

When I got back to the house it was around 2:00 pm. After a late lunch, I walked around the yard with the dogs and took photos of stuff like the Yellow-Billed Magpies in distant trees, a very fat American Robin (it made me chuckle, it was soooo chubby), and the Genista Broom Moth caterpillars that are currently multitudinous on the broom plant in the corner of the yard. They’re generally yellow-orange caterpillars with clusters of black and white spots on them and long sparse white hairs poking out all over. When the light hits them just right, they look like tubes of orange glass…

When mama moth lays her eggs on the plant, she lays them in clusters, one row overlapping the other, like fish scales. The caterpillars only eat broom, so they’re not a danger to the other plants in the yard. They’re also able to “jump” from one branch to another to escape predators.

Escaping from the Zantis at the Sacto Refuge, 04-03-18

The dog and I got up at 6:30 am and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to get a nature fix and to escape the “Zantis” (termite inspectors) coming to the house today.  It was 49º when I left the house, and got up to 80º by the late afternoon.  It’s too early in the year for 80-degree-weather!

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos and video snippets.

On the way to the refuge, along the highway, I saw the carcasses of a red fox (!) and a raccoon. I always kind of punch myself when I see road kill. I have permits to pick up the carcasses if I want to so I can use them for the naturalist class – but I always forget to bring a copy of the permits with me. D’oh! The skulls would have been awesome…

At the preserve, I got to see a raccoon (stepping gingerly through the low water) but no foxes. I think the last time I saw a live fox was at the Shasta house. I HEARD some at Lake Berryessa last year, but I didn’t see them…

When I first drove into the preserve, before I even got to the kiosk, I saw a group of Turkey Vultures sitting on the railroad tracks. I couldn’t see if they’d found something to eat or not, but they all took off as soon as they realized I’d stopped to photograph them.  I came across another pair of Turkey Vultures further along the auto tour route. They were sitting near the ground on a stump, but once again, as soon as I approached to take photos, they took off.  What was really freaky was that a few seconds after the vultures left and Red-Tailed Hawk burst out through the tall greenery around the stump! The only thing I can think of was that the hawks chased something down and killed it, and when the vultures moved in to try to steal the meal, the hawk pushed it further into the shrubbery…

Along the auto tour route, I could hear the “pumper-lunk” call of Bitterns, but wasn’t able to see any of them. I could also hear  Great Tailed grackle singing his variety of songs, and looked all over for him. I finally found him in a tree, and got some video of him, but he was obscured by branches. So you can see him very well, but you CAN hear him.

Decompression Time at the Wildlife Refuges

The dog and I headed to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge one day this week to decompress. Sometimes you just need to listen to your body and do what it wants…

We stopped at the Colusa refuge first (which is right on the way), and drove the auto tour there. Not a lot to see, really, but their ponds are starting to fill in nicely. Finally. I did see some female pheasants, several egrets, and lots of White-Faced Ibis among the usual suspects. The best find there was seeing a Red-Tailed Hawk and a Turkey Vulture sitting in the same tree.  The hawk had a dead Coot it was having for breakfast, and the vulture was sitting nearby hoping the hawk would drop something.

Oh, and I also saw a Great Egret with a vole it had just caught. The vole was still kicking when the egret swallowed it down.

Then we went on to the Sacramento refuge. There were lots of Black-Tailed Jackrabbits around, scurrying from one place to another, but the California Ground Squirrels aren’t out yet. (This is the time of the year when they have their babies, so most of the squirrels are still underground.) We saw most of the usual ducks and geese, both Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, lots of Coots and Killdeer, some little Warblers, Pacific Pond Turtles, the last remnants of the Snow Geese flocks, and Ruddy Ducks. We came upon a Red-Tailed Hawk that was preening itself and didn’t mind if we watched, so I got some video and lots of photos of him (including one where he’s looking down between his legs at us. (Hilarious.)

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The Marsh Wrens were out singing, and the Pied-Billed Grebes were hooting.  I came across one Marsh Wren that looked kind of odd to me; it’s coloring was different than I’m used to seeing. There were speckles all over its back.

When I got home, I posted a photo of it to a bird-identification group on Facebook, and they confirmed it was a Marsh Wren. Unbeknownst to me, the wrens actually have a few color variations, and this was one of the variations I hadn’t really seen or noticed before. So that was a first and a learning moment. I saw a few more female pheasants here, along with way too many Black Phoebes and a Great Blue Heron.  But here, the best find of the day was a Bald Eagle. I didn’t get many photos of it because it was high overhead in a tree, and I couldn’t get a good angle on it, but those guys are always great to see.

Sometimes Nature Giveth You Eagles, 01-19-18

Day 1 of my 4-day birthday weekend. I was hoping to sleep in a bit, but the dog got me up around 6:00 am. I had originally planned to go to the zoo today, but something at the back of my brain kept nagging me to go to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge instead. With the government shutdown looming, if a budget isn’t agreed upon today, the refuge may be closed down until one is put in place, so this might be the only chance I’ll get this weekend to go out there… So, I got the dog ready and we were on the road before 7:00 am.

It was cold in the morning, around 42º, but got up to about 57º by the afternoon.  The sky was mostly clear, with big sofa clouds clustered around the mountains. A pretty day.

The first thing I saw at the refuge was a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on the ground by the carcass of something (that I couldn’t see clearly; lots of black feathers, it might have been a Coot). It’s always so weird to see these big bids sitting on the ground.  I saw other Red-Tails throughout my visit, including some pairs. Most of them, though, were deep in the twiggy branches of trees, and I couldn’t get any real clear photos of them.

That seemed to be true a lot today: Western Meadowlark, blocked by twigs, Peregrine Falcon, blocked by twigs, Northern Shrike, blocked by twigs… There was also a flock of Turkey Vultures on the ground, fighting over something, but all of the tall grass blocked most of what they were doing. It got really frustrating at times.  To kind of counteract that “jinx”, I actually went through the auto-tour route TWICE to get a second look at things when I could.  Doing that I was able to get some fairly good photos of Bald Eagles (adults and a juvenile), a Cooper’s Hawk, Snow Geese, a Western Pond Turtle, some Great Egrets and White-Faced Ibis, and other critters, so I was pleased with that.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At one point, I could hear the weird crackle-warbling of Ravens, and looked around for them. They were way over my head, flying around a Red-Tailed Hawk. I didn’t know if the Ravens were chasing it off, or if they were just cruising on the air currents with it. I tried to get video of that, but the birds were so far away that the camera didn’t know what to focus on. *Sigh*.

On the I-got-the-good-side-of-that-deal front: I had pulled off to the side of the road to get some photos of a Great Egret, and while I was doing that, two White-Faced Ibis and a Snowy Egret flew right into view and landed within a few feet of the car. I also got some cute photos of a number of California Ground Squirrels. So, sometimes Nature giveth… Hah!

On my way out of the refuge, I saw another bunch of Turkey Vultures flying into a tree along the side of the road. I turned the car around and headed back to where they were, and when I got there, several of the vultures raised their wings in the “heraldic pose”, warming themselves in the sun. Other drivers caught sight of them, too, so about five or six of us ended up parking on the shoulder with our cameras and cell phones taking photos of them. A flock of humans snapping pix of a flock of vultures.